Twitter’s License Belongs To Twitter

Probably not the most profound headline I’ve ever written. But it makes the point. I get questions pretty frequently about whether people can use photos, videos and other copyrighted material once those materials show up on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook, etc. The thinking seems to be that once it’s on the Web it’s fair game. But that is not the case. A recent decision from a federal court in New York City makes the point. A Twitter user who uploads material to Twitter gives Twitter (and you can plug in YouTube, Facebook, etc. here) a license to use the material, but that license doesn’t give any rights to third parties (other than the ability to re-tweet the material, within the Twitter universe). In the New York case, the court rejected an argument that a third party had some sort of license by virtue of a photographer’s posting photos of the earthquake in Haiti to his Twitter account. The court found that the Twitter terms of service contradicted such an argument. Those terms of service plainly state that users “retain . . . rights to any Content [they] submit post or display.” And as the court also noted, “these statements would have no meaning if the Twitter TOS allowed third parties to remove the content from Twitter and license it to others without the consent of the copyright holder.” I suppose the law may be a little counter intuitive here — the user puts the content up on a site that is freely available, but objects when someone else does the same thing. But counter intuitive or not, you better think twice before you take content from the Web.